You've picked a goal race, booked your hotel, and confirmed your flights. Everything is ready to go for your next big event.
Now it's time to set a time goal so you can start training.
If you're like most runners, picking your goal time is a somewhat arbitrary process. Usually you pick a goal designed to get you under some barrier, like 2 hours for the half marathon or 4 hours for the marathon, or to qualify for a specific race (Boston being the most common).
While this seems reasonable—after all, how critical can selecting a goal time be—setting a time goal that is too ambitious is the most common reason runners get injured, plateau, and race poorly.
So, if choosing the right goal is that important, how do you determine what your goal time should be? What's wrong with shooting for the stars and laying it all on the line?
The three-step system outlined below makes finding your goal time a breeze. But first, you need to learn about the dangers of setting the wrong time goal.
1. You Target the Wrong Efforts for Your Workouts
Nearly all template training plans are based on your goal finishing time. As such, the workouts and the paces you are assigned to run all assume you're targeting and hitting a specific physiological effort. However, if you are not at that level of fitness, then the workout is wasted because you didn't accomplish the objective. Here's an example:
During marathon training, most plans will assign aerobic threshold runs, or the fastest pace you can run while using the aerobic system as the primary energy pathway. Aerobic threshold is important because it's the pace that is the perfect balance between fat and carbohydrate utilization. The faster your aerobic threshold pace, the faster you can race the marathon without bonking.
To target aerobic threshold you need to run at aerobic threshold pace, which is roughly current marathon pace. If you run too fast you'll actually be running a lactate or anaerobic threshold run—a workout that targets a different energy system. Here is a specific example:
Let's say your goal is to break 3:45 for the marathon (8:35 per-mile pace) and you base your training off of this time goal. But, your current fitness is more like a 4:00 marathon, which is 9:09 pace. When you try to run aerobic threshold runs at 8:35 pace, you'll run WAY too fast to target your aerobic threshold properly. At almost 40 seconds per mile faster than the pace you should run this workout at according to your current fitness level, this workout really becomes an anaerobic threshold run.